It must be more than 10 years since I have been here.
Back then, it was to photograph a couple protesting the planned destruction and removal to an ore crusher of this spectacular range of hills, a couple of hours north of Southern Cross.
This time, I’m back, finally, to have a closer look at the Helena and Aurora Range, which has, again, escaped the bulldozer and dynamite after a late-2017 government decision not to grant a mining permit in this conservation area.
I won’t dwell on the politics other than to say there are moves to make the area into a national park not just because of the sheer, rugged beauty of the cliffs and gullies which rise out of the sand plains and woodlands, but because they are home to species of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.
This is not a place for the faint of heart or limb. I was following my mate, Geo Bob, or I may well have got lost in the myriad of tracks, trails, diversions and dead ends around the base of the range.
It is a fair way from anywhere and rarely visited — we saw no one at all on the three days of our stay — although there was a weak mobile signal at the top of the Bungalbin Hill. You really do not want to “come unstuck” out there. Water, hat and boots are essential.
A four-wheel-drive, too, is highly recommended if you want to get the most out of the trip. Once you leave the bitumen the road, reliable at first, is prone to sporadic potholes and gullies, which will defeat low-clearance cars. You might get to the bring-your-own-everything, quiet, level camping area at the base of the ranges in a two-wheel-drive but you certainly will not get to the top, where the most spectacular views and rough walk trails await.
On the lightly treed summit we clambered around outcrops, discovering caves and stunning views, finding signs of past mining explorations. Geo Bob points out a tetratheca plant — the small purple flowers on the spike-like stems appearing to grow straight out of the rock.
This is the small plant which almost single-handedly defeated the first attempt to mine the ranges. You will find it nowhere else.
From this sentinel rock, we survey the scenes below: a rain squall approaching from the west, the clouds allowing a solitary pool of sunlight to fall on the woodlands below and, next day, the clear skies, haze and distant hills hunkered down on the horizon. All the time, we are under the gaze of a wheeling, proprietorial eagle.
I’m not sure if we even scratched the surface of what could be discovered in these ranges in the couple of days we were there — there are tales of rock art and sacred sites — but for the solitude, the views and the experience of treading (carefully) in such a unique, timeless place, the journey was well worthwhile.
An understated gem in WA’s jewel-encrusted crown.